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11+ Background

This information has been supplied as a guide. You are strongly advised to speak to the schools of your choice to confirm the type of tests they actually use, requirements and test dates.

Grammar schools have existed in a form similar to now since the 1870’s – when an entrance test was applicable to distinguish a candidate’s suitability. In 1974 grammar schools were abolished in favour of non-selective “Comprehensive” or Secondary schools. However, we still have a grammar school system in the UK, which operates on a selective entry basis, with the top 10% in a particular catchment area being offered places. At the time of writing there are currently 164 state run grammar schools in existence throughout the United Kingdom and 68 in Northern Ireland.

It is estimated that approximately 100,000 children sit the 11 Plus examination in England each year for around 15,000 – 20,000 places, giving each child a 1 in 6 chance of gaining a place.
The 11 plus, 11+ or Eleven Plus, is a tool used by state grammar schools. Tests are taken in Year 6 in order to select pupils for entry into schools in Year 7. There is no uniformity to the exams and no synchronicity to when the examinations take place.

The tests usually include Mathematics, English, Verbal Reasoning and Non-verbal Reasoning questions but this varies from school to school. Many private/independent schools also use the eleven plus and their own eleven plus style tests. In Northern Ireland the 11+ tests are slightly different, taking place at the end of Year 7. The children are tested in English, Math and Science/Technology.

The current economic climate means that fewer people are able to pay for schooling and are more inclined to maximize the chances of getting a place at a state grammar school. This will increase in areas with an increasing child population, as more children are competing for the same number of places.

What tests do the pupils take?

Most of these LEAs and independent schools invite NFER to construct the tests that they use. The LEA or school will usually have chosen to administer two, three or occasionally more of the following four types of test:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Non-Verbal Reasoning
  • Mathematics
  • English

In some cases, the tests will be of a different kind, e.g. a verbal reasoning and a mathematics test, and in other cases the tests will be two or more of the same kind, e.g. two or three verbal reasoning tests.

Most schools and LEAs choose to administer at least one verbal reasoning test. Use of non-verbal reasoning tests is also common, with less use being made of mathematics tests and relatively low usage of English tests.

LEAs and schools have to compromise between extensive testing and the demand this would make of pupils, plus time-tabling, logistic and budgetary considerations. Consequently, pupils usually take two or three tests, plus one or more practice papers in some LEAs.

Reasoning tests are used for secondary selection because of their high reliability and their high predictive validity. Reasoning tests are also favoured as they are 'curriculum-free' tests, and hence are unbiased, in the sense of not being affected by the quality of teaching in the pupils' different primary schools. Non-verbal reasoning tests are examples of 'culture-fair' tests, in the sense of requiring no understanding of written language.

Mathematics and English tests are used by some LEAs and schools, because these are National Curriculum core subjects that will be taken throughout Key Stages 3 and 4. The use of English tests is less, however, possibly because of the time taken to mark this type of test, and because of the lower reliability due to subjective marking. Both of these issues can be overcome by the use of multiple-choice English tests.

When do the tests take place?

The date of selection tests varies from area to area, generally most state grammar schools undertake their entrance tests between October and February.

What is the pass mark?

NFER’s role in a secondary selection procedure is usually restricted to constructing the tests and to standardising the test scores. It is the school or LEA that decides who is to be offered a place at a selective school. In many cases, there is a pre-determined number of selective places, and these are largely filled from an order of merit. Your location relative to the school can also play a part. If your child is out of the immediate catchment area you may find it harder to obtain a place. In some cases, a school or LEA will discuss with NFER the relative level of ability indicated by the standardised scores provided, but again it is the school or LEA that would then decide to whom to offer its selective places.

How much practice should I give my child?

Strictly speaking, practice and coaching are separate activities. Coaching takes place when children are actually taught the best way to answer the test questions. Practice is simply sitting down and attempting to answer questions that are similar to the ones in the real test.

A lot of research has been conducted by psychologists over many years into the effects of practice and coaching. Such research has found, for example:

  • practice and coaching effects can be slightly greater for non-verbal tests than for verbal tests.
  • more able pupils can gain more from practice than less able pupils.
  • practice effects are greater for tests that have a time-limit compared to those without a time-limit.
The research has also found diminishing returns with increased practice and coaching. For example, the practice gain between the first and second sessions is usually as great as the total benefit from all further practice. Studies suggest that there is no significant gain after about five practice sessions, and that there is no significant benefit from more than a few hours of coaching.

Typical gains in test score resulting from practice are in the region of 4 to 5 standardised score points. Gains in score resulting from coaching are also in the region of 4 to 5 standardised score points, and the effect is largely additive, i.e. a total of around 9 points altogether. However, it must be stressed that the gains quoted above represent the difference between much practice or coaching and none at all. It is often the case that pupils taking secondary selection tests will have taken at least one practice test or had some coaching in their primary schools, and therefore the marginal effect of extra practice or coaching outside school would amount to less than the gains quoted above.

What are test scores?

Eleven plus test scores are published by the school or education authority in the form of standardised scores. If more than one test is administered, the scores may be given for each test separately, or it may be that only a composite score is given. If a composite is given, it will be either the total standardised score or the average (mean) of the standardised scores.

Sometimes raw scores might also be provided. A pupil’s raw score is simply the number of questions in the test that the pupil has answered correctly.

A standardised test score is the result of translating the number of correct answers in a test (the ‘raw score’) into a more user-friendly score on a completely different scale, that enables account to be taken of the pupil’s age, and that allows scores from more than one test to be meaningfully added together. This process of converting raw scores to standardised scores may be referred to as standardising a test, or simply ‘standardisation’.

Click here for more on standardised testing

NB Our eleven plus advice has no connection with any Local Education Authority and to the best of our ability the content is accurate and up to date. We cannot be held in anyway responsible for any errors or omissions that it may contain. Please contact your chosen grammar school or LEA for all admission and eleven plus examination queries.